Thursday, June 27, 2013

Film Review: Hollow (2011)

Hollow (Review)
United Kingdom/2011
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: Yes

Two couples - Scott and Emma, and James and Lynn - go on a small getaway at an old home of Emma's. As they vacation, they start exploring the area's folklore and the eerie legend surrounding a hollow tree; this tree is believed to have caused young couples to commit suicide...

These young couples have fun together, throughout. Telling stories of their pasts, teasing each other, and even doing some drugs to pass the time. Scott and Emma are engaged, while James still has feelings for Emma from what is presumably a past relationship. As they continue looking into the tree, odd occurrences plague their performances - from strange figures in the dark to odd screeching in the night. After an insane experience near the tree, they decide to leave, but an odd force draws one of them closer.

The story in this film, and it's found-footage style, is too familiar. Everything about this film screams cliché. For a horror film, this story fails to deliver the scares; there are a few loud-noise scares, but they are ineffective due to the lack of effective suspense and build-up, and they are few and far between anyway. The story drags on and on with a side story of relationship problems that fails due to the lack of character and connection. Also, the film seems to hate complete sentences as every sentence is cut by the editing that feels like it needs to jump to another scene every couple of seconds. ("What was th..." "I think it was the..." Please stop re..." "Ok, we need to sav..." etc.)

Basically, the editing is what you'd expect from a found-footage horror film. Also, the characters really overdo the scared-breathing/wheezing, it quickly gets annoying and repetitive. On top of that, they all seem to be very stupid, making choices that don't make any sense at all. And, in typical found-footage horror, you can't see what the characters claim to see, you just see darkness and hear screaming; without suspense or something to grasp (even if it's subtle), your imagination can't run wild. There are a few solid scenes, but only a few.

The bulk of the acting was okay. It was competent enough to get the job done. The breathing was too much at times and over-exaggerated, so there was some overacting, especially at the end. The editing is also annoying as it cuts many sentences and jumps from scene to scene too often; when it gets heated, it cuts to the aftermath; I suppose that is more of an issue for the writing and story, though.

Overall, Hollow is a hollow horror film; it's empty, a waste of time, a shell without terror in the inside. It's quite the bore, and it drags on and on. I do not recommend paying to purchase or rent Hollow, you should stream if you're still interested.

Score: 2/10
Parental Guide: Some violence, brief nudity.

Film Review: Headshot (2011)

Headshot (Review)
Thailand/2011
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: Yes 

Tul is a cop-turned-hitman who wakes up from a coma 3 months after a job went bad. Although he survived a shot to the head, Tul's vision has been turned upside down which further complicates his job, along with his tormenting past.

Headshot is a nonlinear story that jumps from past to present often. It is revealed that Tul was a cop that was about to make a huge bust regarding the minister's brother. After refusing a bribe, he is blackmailed into throwing the case. He violently refuses the bribe and ends up in jail where he questions the definition justice. In jail, a man, Dr. Suang, attempts to recruit Tul into a secret organization as an "assassination expert" - a hitman organization that specializes in murdering corrupt politicians, tax evaders, drug traffickers, and the like. He eventually joins the organization, and we're back at the coma. Now, he continues to evaluate his life and decides to quit the job, but he is continuously dragged in by a series of twists and turns.

I really enjoyed the story in Headshot. It's unique and entertaining, although the storytelling can be confusing at times. It's a compelling drama mixed with a few great action sequences; as I questioned my own definition of justice, I'd be quickly snapped into a thrilling shootout. My only complaint during the shootouts was the use of computer-generated blood, the splatter effect looked very fake and kinda broke the immersion; it's only a minor complaint, as the thrills and long-range realism (shootouts from a long distance) of some shootouts was redeeming. As I said before, the film has strong elements of drama that genuinely worked, really creating a troubled character with thought-provoking monologues.

The acting is great from the entire cast. The writing is also great, the dialogue flowed fluently and authentically. The music was also fantastic; it was often simple yet very effective and well-fitted - definitely a strong point for the film. The film is shot-beautifully, the cinematography is fantastic. The storytelling can be confusing since it jumps from time to time, sometimes without warning; it takes a few moments to realize what time the story is currently in.

Overall, Headshot is a great action/drama. The story is often compelling and thrilling, and throughout entertaining. I recommend this film for fans of the genre - the slow-paced action dramas, a rental otherwise.

Score: 8/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood, sex and nudity.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Film Review: Dark Skies (2013)

Dark Skies (Review)
United States/2013
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

The Barrett family live a normal life. Daniel, the father, has been out of work; Lacy, the mother, is trying to sell a house; Jesse, the older sibling, helps distract his brother from their parents fights, while rebelling against them; Sammy, the younger brother, is a young boy afraid of the Sandman. Their world is flipped upside down when odd things happen in their home; food is eaten, cans are oddly stacked, the alarm goes off spontaneously, and much more.

Dark Skies is a SciFi/horror film. This is not a supernatural horror film like Paranormal Activity or Insidious, it's an alien horror film; I like this approach as it is underused in a genre filled with ghost stories. The story moves at a slow pace, not necessarily intense or suspenseful. Instead, it uses its slow pace to create a dramatic experience - an experience that focuses on the situation and characters as much as it focuses on the horror. On that note, the horror mostly consists of jump-scares and some eerie visuals; most of the jump scares are good, but we've seen them before. When it isn't trying to scare, the film focuses on the aliens, called "The Grays", and their origins; the details are brief yet interesting. The ending of the film is predictable, but reassuring for fans of the film.

The acting is great. The entire cast deliver believable performances, with only some overacting during intense conversations. The design of the Grays is good, about what you'd expect an alien to look like, or at least what I expected. The direction and writing from Scott Stewart is great, a very smooth experience with few flaws. The music isn't special but it works, which is unfortunate considering the SciFi elements of the film could've spawned a unique, eerie soundtrack.

Overall, Dark Skies is a good SciFi Horror film. It never fully fleshes out its unique idea and concept, but it genuinely entertains. For fans of the genre, you're in for a solid treat. I recommend a rental for fans of the genre, considering the slow pace which may put off some viewers.
Score: 6/10

Parental Guide: Some violence and blood.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Film Review: Tidal Wave (2009)

Tidal Wave (Review)
South Korea/2009
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: Yes 

Every year, Haeundae-gu in Busan, South Korea, attracts millions of visitors to the sunny beaches. In 2009, a geologist traces nearby earthquakes and finds alarming signs of a potential tsunami right around the corner - a tsunami that would only give the people 10 minutes to evacuate before the city is swallowed by a massive wave.

Tidal Wave, or Haeundae, introduces many characters throughout its story. In fact, the first hour and 20 minutes or so revolves around the characters, as well as building up the imminent disaster. I personally liked most of the character, they were genuinely funny; whether they were clumsy or drunk, they'd end up in funny situations, like accidentally consuming soap or pretending to be blind. This build-up/development phase of the movie, which lasts the first two acts, is very lighthearted and enjoyable... which makes the disaster emotionally effective. The disaster isn't the Hollywood type where the main characters live happily ever after. No, Tidal Wave pulls on your emotions with heartbreaking sacrifices and deaths. Everyone doesn't live happily ever after, and I like this (somewhat) realistic approach as it changes the formula. There are a few scenes that feel unrealistic and out-of-place during the disaster, however, and these scenes somewhat break the immersion and believability. If you don't mind melodrama, it shouldn't be a significant issue, though.

As previously stated, the first two acts build-up characters and relationships as well as the imminent disaster; and, the third act is the actual disaster. I like this blend of light-hearted comedy and unexpectedly effective tragedy. I feel like because the first half of the film is so light-hearted and humorous, the second half of the film is so much more effective. So, the comedy and drama blend to create an effective bittersweet experience. There a couple of scenes of overacting, where it starts to be too much; I'm comfortable with overdramatic situations, but this film has one too many. As another note, the disaster only lasts around 30 minutes, but it is nonstop for that period; every minute of this disaster focuses on the choices of the characters, and their triumph or loss. I really like the structure of the film.

The acting is great, overall. The entire cast deliver fluently and realistically, and they create likable characters. However, there are quite a few scenes of overacting; simply emoting too much emotion at once. I enjoy the music for the film; it blends seamlessly with the film as it matched the emotion, whether light-hearted and fun or sad and depressing. The cinematography is great, the film is shot beautifully. The special effects are also great, matching the top films from Hollywood.

Overall, Tidal Wave is a very effective disaster movie with actual build-up and character. This film doesn't throw a disaster at you and expect you to care; it takes it time developing its characters and building up suspense for the disaster, then it hits you with an emotional rollercoaster - expect the unexpected, especially if you're not familiar with foreign films. If it counts for anything, I prefer Tidal Wave over The Impossible. I recommend a purchase for fans of the genre, a rental otherwise.

Score: 8/10
Parental Guide: Some violence and blood.

Film Review: The Impossible (2012)

The Impossible (Review)
Spain/2012
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

Henry Bennet (Ewan McGregor), Maria (Naomi Watts), and their children Lucas (Tom Holland), Tomas and Simon are spending their Christmas vacation in beautiful Khao Lak, Thailand. Unfortunately, they are swept away by a destructive tsunami, as well as the many natives and the resort. As the tsunami winds down, Maria and Lucas struggle to survive and hopefully locate the rest of the family; meanwhile, Henry, Tomas, and Simon do the same.

The Impossible begins with brief introduction to the characters. Within the first ten minutes, a tsunami forcefully swoops in and separates the family. The rest of the film focuses on the survival of this particular family. From their heartbreaking separation to their inevitable reunion; along with the helping hands of the native people, and other stranded visitors. It's a journey through a devastating disaster where the people have to take care of each other. Despite being based on a tragic event, the film is mostly positive; you may cry, but they'll likely be tears of relief and happiness.

However, I never felt a genuine connection with the characters due to the lack of development. I felt the emotion and pain they go through mainly because of the superb acting, but it isn't really as effective since I don't actually know these characters. Also, the story is predictable, an almost "happily-ever-after" blockbuster. It focuses so much on this family, that it barely focuses on the people that were most effected by this natural disaster. And it's positive message is somewhat distorted due to this strong focus on an underdeveloped family; the helping hands are treated as insignificant and minor compared to the survival of the Bennet family. The people don't really come together as one would expect. The story is also a bit empty, due to some unnecessarily prolonged scenes. The runtime of the film is 1hr 53min, but the film is actually 1hr 43 because of the 10 minute credits.

The acting is fantastic from the entire cast. Ewan McGregor is great, really transmits his emotion well. Naomi Watts is also fantastic as she displays physical and emotional pain superbly. And, Tom Holland is equally impressive. The special effects are superb during the disaster sequence. The cinematography is also stunningly beautiful, despite the disastrous occasion. The music was also effective in leading the emotion of the film. The direction and editing is also fantastic. Most of the technical aspects of The Impossible are exceptional.

Although I have an article planned on the subject, this film is rated PG-13, despite its strong violence, gore, and nudity. This is likely due to the subject of the film, which I think is unfair. Aside from the box office, I don't think an R-rating would have a negative effect on the film. If you plan on showing this to children or young teenagers, then you should have an adult, as the film is graphically violent and natural nudity is seen throughout. The reason I mention this is because some films receive R-ratings solely due to Language, and a film like this receives a Pg-13 and it's ironically missing language. /rant

Overall, The Impossible is a good disaster film. Technically, the film is exceptionally - from the beautiful cinematography to the superb acting. However, the story is generic and predictable, and it's underdeveloped and distorted. I lightly recommend a purchase for fans of the genre, a rental otherwise.

Score: 6/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and gore, and nudity.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Film Review: Traffic (2000)

Traffic (Review)
United States/2000
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

Traffic follows the United States War on Drugs through several perspectives: the U.S. drug czar and his substance-abusing daughter (Michael Douglas), a Mexican police officers (Benicio Del Toro), and a trafficker's housewife (Catherine Zeta-Jones). The stories subtly interlink to create a disturbing reality.

The story in this film is much too complicated to explain in a brief review, so I won't go deep into detail. The story revolving the drug czar and his daughter is very disturbing and realistic aa it features excessive drug use and presents a frustrating image of addiction; it's frustrating because of how masterful the disturbing depiction is captured. The Mexico storyline is also frustratingly realistic as it depicts the corruption within the legal system and the many flaws; it's as relevant then as it is now. The trafficker's story has less impact than the others, but manages to entertain; the focus isn't completely clear as it jumps between the housewife and the DEA, but it does conjure some interest with the interesting conversations concerning the trafficking process. All of the stories subtly interlink, although most of the main characters do not interact directly. The ending of the film is compelling - it made me think of my stance on the war on drugs and such, as well as contemplate the consequences.

I really enjoyed the story in this film. Every story blend together to create a compelling reality revolving around the drugs and the war on drugs. The depictions of addiction, corruption, and greed are incredibly frustrating because they are incredibly accurate. In a way, I hated it, but I couldn't stop myself from loving it; everytime the drug czar's daughter, Caroline, abused drugs, disrespecting her father and degrading herself, I'd cringe or shake my head; and it's sad knowing addiction happens to even the most privileged people; scenes with the power to evoke emotion such as frustration are spread consistently throughout the film. Ultimately, I think the story is superbly effective because of how accurate the depictions are of the drug war; accurate depictions of yesterday, today, and, unfortunately, tomorrow.

The acting is fantastic. Benicio Del Toro steals the show with a charismatic performance, delivering his dialogue with power and fluency. Michael Douglas also delivers a great performance - I like how he shows frustration and relief realistically, albeit conservatively. Erika Christensen also delivers a fantastic performance as an addict, her facial expressions really capture the feelings of euphoria. Each story was shot in a different tint so the audience can differentiate the stories. Personally, I found the tints to be distracting and too overwhelming. The direction and editing were fine, so the cinematography was an odd choice.

Overall, Traffic is a disturbing, haunting, and realistic depiction of the war on drugs; a compelling, though-provoking film. I strongly recommend a purchase for fans of the genre, a rental otherwise.

Score: 9/10
Parental Guide: Some strong violence and blood, graphic drug use, and nudity.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Film Review: Hatchet 2 (2010)

Hatchet 2 (Review)
United States/2010
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

Marybeth (Danielle Harris) escapes from the brutal, deformed legend Victor Crowley in the swamps of Louisiana. Marybeth eventually learns the truth from Reverend Zombie (Tony Rodd) - her father was partly responsible for the tragic death of Victor Crowley and now he haunts the swamps. Now, Marybeth wants revenge, and, along with Zombie and a legion of paid hunters, returns to the swamps...

The story is very basic. Much of the backstory feels like a repeat of the first film; it's too much and too little - the background takes up over half of the runtime and hardly holds any entertaining or valuable details. Most of the dialogue feels like it's on repeat, as if they need to drill these hollow facts into your head; the mention the incident a dozen times; the rest of the dialogue is hit-or-miss humor. The final 30 minutes of the film unleashes a massacre filled with over-the-top gore; heads are smashed, bodies are vertically and horizontally cut in half, gallons of blood are liberally splashed and much more. The ending is predictable, but it works. If you're watching this for Victor Crowley, he's poorly utilized.

Although they are ridiculous and impressive, the kills lack real tension and build-up, and they also lack connection; I can barely remember any of the characters' names as they are poorly used, so I didn't care, at all. Now, I'm not asking for some deep, emotional characters, but I want my characters to have some, I don't know, character? At one point, I thought I could justify the generic story and characters by categorizing it as that purposefully-made B-movie that is so bad it's good... but, it's not, it takes itself way too seriously and fails to imitate the B-movie feel.

The acting is bad all-around. Danielle Harris is the biggest offender in the cast with her bland performance. Every time she spoke, I cringed - either she's completely emotionless or unbelievably over-the-top. Also, her facial expression is always confused - I mean, she literally has a confused look on her face as if she's asking "what's my next line?" or "am I supposed to stand here or there?" (Now, this may be involuntary, and I may be a bit harsh, but I think it really compliments her performance.) The performance is reminiscent to Rooney Mara's horrid performance in A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010). Even Tony Todd was underwhelming as Zombie. He lacks the charismatic creepiness he's had in previous performances, the enthusiasm just isn't there. He does have a few exceptional scenes, though.

The gore effects are amazing. The kills are over-the-top bloody and creative. Gorehounds will not be disappointed during the final act of this film. It's not that it looks realistic, but it the kills are so unconventional and creative, I was impressed. The film is shot well-enough, not much to say about the setting as it is also poorly utilized. The music didn't catch my ear, but it wasn't distracting, either. From a technical standpoint, excluding the special effects, Hatchet 2 is simply acceptable.

Overall, Hatchet 2 is a treat for gorehounds. Unfortunately, the special effects can't redeem the generic story, the horrible acting, and the insulting use of Victor Crowley - Hatchet 2 will definitely taint the once promising characters and almost iconic Victor Crowley. In fact, everything takes the backseat compared to the special effects as nothing in this film has a shred of significance. I recommend streaming on Netflix before directly paying to rent or purchase.

Score: 3/10
Parental Guide: Strong graphic violence and gore, nudity and sex.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Film Review: War of the Arrows (2011)

War of the Arrows (Review)
South Korea/2011
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

As children, Nam-yi and Ja-in witness their father's death and are forced to escape - the pair find refuge with their father's best friend, Kim Mu-seon. Years later, Nam-yi (Park Hae-il) is a skilled archer, and Ja-in (Moon Chae-won) plans to marry Mu-seon's son, Seo-goon (Kim Mu-yeol). Before the wedding is completed, the village is invaded and Ja-in has been kidnapped.

The story in this film is simplistic yet entertaining; it's very easy to follow and very immersive. The characters are quickly introduced with some brief detail, and the setting is also briefly described through conversations. Action is the main element of the story. War of the Arrows, or Arrow: The Ultimate Weapon, is an action film at heart. The story begins with an emotional and thrilling sequence. Then, it takes a brief moment to introduce the characters, the dilemmas, and the marriage. After the invasion, the film is pure action. The large scale chase scenes are dreadfully thrilling as characters are chased by dozens of soldiers and arrows through beautiful scenery. Arrows are whizzing towards the audience every other scene, while swords violently clash during the rest. The second half of the film is a nonstop action sequence filled with variety. And, it all leads up to a stunning ending.

Park Hae-il is fantastic as the lead. He shows subtle emotion perfectly, someone trying to cover up his feelings; and, he also shows frustration, relief, and sadness very well. Moon Chae-win's performance is very similar, hiding her emotion until the perfect moment. Kim Mu-yeol plays a minor role, but he plays it very well; he looks a lot like Joseph Gordon-Levitt, by the way. The rest of the cast deliver equally impressive and believable performances.

The film is directed masterfully written well by Kim Han-min. The cinematography is superb, perfectly capturing the lavish scenery with amazing visuals; the ending in particular is captured beautifully. There is one scene that used some odd special effects that briefly hurt the film's immersion; fortunately, the film rebounds for a fantastic ending. The music compliments the film effectively, it captures the era and heightens the tension; I'd love to listen to this soundtrack without the film. The film is fairly paced during the first act, then becomes a ferociously paced action/thriller - the second half of this film was over before I knew it.

Overall, War of the Arrows is a fantastic action film - epic would be an understatement. The acting is great, the cinematography is superb, and the action sequences are fantastic and
versatile; the two hour runtime feels like so much less thanks to the ferocious pace and consistent action.Watching arrows curve through impossible angles reminded me of Wanted, but with arrows instead of bullets. This is a must watch South Korean gem. I highly recommend a purchase.

Score: 9/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Film Review: Giallo (2009)

Giallo (Review)
Italy/Spain/United Kingdom/United States/2009
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

In Italy, Celine, a model, is kidnapped on her way home to her visiting sister, Linda (Emmanuelle Seigner). Linda contacts Inspector Enzo Avolfi (Adrien Brody), who is a lonewolf-style inspector currently tracking a serial killer known as "Yellow" (also played by Adrien Brody, not a spoiler). Linda fears her sister has been abducted, and Enzo believes she may already be a victim of the vicious serial killer.

Although originally rejected, Linda eventually joins Enzo in the investigation. They look through gruesome photographs of past victims and begin to think like a serial killer. They also - luckily - find clues from a victim that survived and uttered a few words. As the investigation continues, we also delve deeper into the mind of Enzo, who has been tormented by his past - the murder of his mother and his subsequent retaliation. This somewhat uneventful investigation ends abruptly as Enzo and Yellow face off, with Linda's fate in their hands...

Giallo is a horror/slasher from beginning to end. It is very cliché and generic - it doesn't explore any new territory, and it unfortunately suffers from poor execution. You know who the killer is from the beginning, and his past is only touched upon briefly; he is creepy and effective, and a very brutal psychopath. The investigation on the other hand is mostly bland and uneventful - it wouldn't qualify as a top-tier investigation. The film lacks both tension and terror, so it fails as a horror film. It also starts to drag its feet towards the end, with unnecessarily prolonged scenes. The ending of the film is unfulfilling, it seems to be leaning towards a generic happy-ending, but I suppose you can also think of the worse possible scenario.

The acting in this film is generally bad. Adrien Brody plays two different characters, and he plays them well enough. Emmanuelle Seigner has a very robotic delivery with most of her dialogue - she just doesn't feel like a real person. On top of the poor dialogue, which may be blamed on the writing, Seigner tends to overact during some scenes and underwhelm during others - considering she is a major part of the film, this is a significant issue. The makeup effects were great during some scenes, although Yellow's makeup was often odd. I like the cinematography in the film, particularly the moody lighting. I also enjoyed the versatile music, although it was occasionally ill-fitted; the music ranged from eerie to epic.

Overall, Giallo is a generic "been there, done that" slasher. The acting is bad from most of the cast as much of the dialogue is unnatural, poorly written, and poorly performed. Technically, I liked the cinematography, the music, and the makeup - but this can't redeem the formulaic story and the poor execution. I recommend a stream or a rental.

Score: 3/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and gore, and nudity (mostly through photographs).

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Film Review: Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

Zero Dark Thirty (Review)
United States/2012
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

Zero Dark Thirty follows the career of Maya (Jessica Chastain), a young CIA agent, which was spent gathering information on Osama Bin Laden. The story moves through several vital points, including interrogations and terrorist attacks, that lead up to a daring operation. (You're better off reading about or watching the film than reading my description, or you'd be reading a much longer review.)

The story is based on actual events. Now, you can expect many of these events to be somewhat distorted considering how many facts are actually out there for the public concerning this operation - it's hard to measure a film's authenticity when I can't actually verify the key moments of the film. As with most historical films, you shouldn't absorb every scene in a film as a fact, especially a film based on timid information. I won't assume it's all true, so I'll call this a work of fiction with an authentic background.

The story goes over a long period of time. Starting briefly with the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack and ending with the May 1, 2011 raid. The first thing I'd like to note is: the events in this film feel very disjointed - disconnected - as if they have little significance, and you, as the audience, have to work to piece everything together. Next, the first act was repetitive as it followed a predictable formula; torturous interrogation, terrorist attack, torturous interrogation, terrorist attack, etc. I didn't find the investigation interesting or immersive since many small details were spread too thin; it doesn't delve deep enough to justify the prolonged scenes. By the time the film reached the last act, I was unfortunately exhausted and bored. The raid sequence was well-crafted, but underwhelming; this is due to my own expectations stemming from critical reviews, so I won't fault the film much. However, the ending of the film drags on and on, and the sense of accomplishment or victory is never quite achieved.

A major offense in this film is the severe lack of character development - the film really lacks a soul, an identity. Characters are quickly introduced, but never develop an actual character. So, when I see Maya crying during the ending, I don't really care. The fact that Maya is the main character and she barely has any personal traits is bad; she's also not developed as a likable character, her frustration is never really explained, so you can only assume the feelings and motives that influence her decisions and choice of words. The seals are introduced during the final act, although they are not actually introduced per se - it's more like they appear during the final act. Character-wise, the film is not very informative when it comes to the people in the operation; again, this is likely due to the lack of viable information of the situation. I'm not an emotionless person, but when a character I don't know or haven't connected with dies, I simply can't care.

The acting is great from the entire cast. Jessica Chastain leads this film with a ferocious performance. She can be tamed, but she can also be vicious. She adds some spunk to her lifeless character, but can't save the hollow character writing. On that note, although much of dialogue feels authentic and is delivered fluently, there is some very ill-fitted, cheeky dialogue; I thought it was completely misplaced and I would say it's out of character if they were any consistent characters to begin with. As a film based on a historical event, the writers seem to focus on trivial events more than the actual event; the research or investigation is lifeless, as if the writers failed to research the event themselves. The film is shot adequately; the final raid sequence was often too dark, though, so you may end up adjusting your eyesight more often than enjoying the film.

Overall, Zero Dark Thirty is too long, unfulfilling, and tedious. The few action sequences are great, but too repetitive and formulaic. The research and investigation lack depth and fail to conjure interest. And, finally, the film fails to create character - the film has no identity. However, the film features great performances, a good soundtrack, and a solid finale; not enough to redeem the film, but it's something. Hopefully a documentary is released with more facts, I believe that may be more interesting and entertaining. I recommend a rental before purchasing.

Score: 4/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood, including torture, and nudity.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Film Review: Funny Games (1997)

Funny Games (Review)
Austria/1997
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

Two seemingly well-mannered and polite young men, Paul (Arno Frisch) and Peter (Frank Giering), take a vacationing family hostage in their own lake house. Paul and Peter play funny games with the family throughout the night, whilist having discussions of reality and fiction.

The story in this film is very simple yet incredibly effective. Both Paul and Peter are introduced as polite young men staying with the neighbor. After an altercation involving a case of eggs, the pair decide to take the family hostage; a father, mother, and young son. The story heavily relies on its dialogue and character - two elements that are masterfully blended. The tension is always heavy in this film, almost unbelievably intense. And, the use of violence is gratuitously effective, albeit graphic; the film really makes a strong argument, although it is subtle. (subtly powerful?) The story does lose some momentum during the third act, and the pace does slow down significantly. However, the story eventually rebounds for a sinister ending.

Really, the strong points of the story are these two characters: Paul and Peter. Their deceptive words flow fluently and constantly as they lie without biting their tongues - with sinister smiles on their faces and a relaxed tone in their tone. They justify their actions with their slick use of words. And, they often bicker and argue amongst themselves, but you can't tell if it's real or not. These are two of the most despicably charismatic characters I've seen; and, I can only applaud the creation of these magnificently effective and invoking characters.

Arno Frisch plays Paul and he plays him superbly. He speaks with conviction and confidence as his words flow fluently and authentically, he is a believable sociopath. Frank Giering plays Peter with a little less charm than Frisch, but he captures the clumsy character well. On top of that, Susanne Lothar plays Anna, the mother, and she delivers a magnificent performance - starting as a believable housewife, and evoking wonderful emotion through the torturous funny games. The music works wells for the film, blending different genres and tones with precise audio and visual editing. Michael Haneke brilliantly helms Funny Games as writer and director.

Overall, Funny Games is a fantastic thriller with an effective story and superb, haunting performances. I highly recommend a purchase for fans of the genre, a rental otherwise.

Score: 9/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood, some brief nudity.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Film Review: The Eye (2008)

The Eye (Review)
United States/2008
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

Sydney (Jessica Alba) is a violinist who has been blind since she was 5 years old due to an accident involving fireworks. Now, she undergoes a cornea transplant. Her vision is blurry at first, but that is a side effect of the surgery; however, the shadowy figures and disturbing visions Sydney experiences are not...

Sydney's visions usually involve smoke and fire, and she also sees dead people. The dead are accompanied by a tall shadow figure that presumably escorts the dead to some sort of afterlife. These visions are consistent and all-too-real, and they cause Sydney to question her sanity. Sydney eventually gets help from her originally skeptical visual therapist, Paul, and they start looking into the donor of the eyes.

The Eye is a fairly simple, straight-forward story. Although it is a bit uneventful and repetitive, The Eye has an interesting, well-executed concept. The scares mostly consists of jump-scares, with some suspense and eerie visuals tossed in. There are a few amazing jump-scares in this film - a few that really use all of the above elements to create effective shockers. As with most films that rely on jump-scares, The Eye may be ineffective during repeat viewings. (the horror in this film is surprisingly effective during the first viewing.) I also really enjoyed the subtle horror, like the shadows moving. The psychological aspects are interesting, but not fully developed or explored. The ending of the film is good; it's not perfect, but it has some meaning.

The acting was great from the entire cast. Jessica Alba delivers a great performance - a very believable and accurate performance. (She's not bad to look at, either.) Jessica Alba is really the only character the film focuses on, so judging the rest of the performances is difficult as they aren't fully developed. All I can really say is: the supporting cast won't win any awards, but they didn't distract or hurt the story in anyway, either.

Overall, The Eye is an entertaining horror film. The jump-scares are very effective and creative, but they will likely lose their effectiveness on repeat viewing. It's one of the films that really uses its concept wisely to create terror. I recommend a purchase for fans of the genre, a rental otherwise.

Score: 7/10
Parental Guide: Some violence and blood.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Film Review: The Last Stand (2013)

The Last Stand (Review)
United States/2013
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

Small-town Sheriff Ray (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is enjoying his day off, although he briefly investigates two suspicious truckers thinking little of it. Meanwhile, Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega), a notorious drug lord, daringly escapes from the FBI in Las Vegas in a modified Chevrolet Corvette C6 ZR1 - traveling at incredible speeds as he aims for Mexico. Sheriff Ray enlists his few deputies and deputizes two more for his last stand.

The Last Stand features a simple yet exciting story masterfully blending strong action sequences and light comedy elements. The action is really the strongest element in the film, and it is very, very powerful. The Last Stand consistently offers edge-of-your-seat chase scenes, blazingly explosive firefights, and a great fistfight scene; and, it seamlessly blends in a few witty one-liners, some hilarious situations, and an eccentrically humorous performance from Johnny Knoxville. The pacing is ferociously fast, something is always going on in this film. It does, however, overstay its welcome by a few minutes and is a bit repetitive - luckily, it ended before this became a serious issue.

The story itself is creative, and I enjoy the concept of a last stand; simply watching the sheriff and his deputies prepare was entertaining, and the execution of their plan was the cherry-on-top - it was explosive and ridiculously violent. The characters have some background and are very likable, and there is one scene works exceptionally in jerking your emotions - it was actually unexpected, but welcomed. The ending of the film is great, it has an intense chase scene, a small game of cat-and-mouse, and surprisingly thrilling fight scene. Finally, Gabriel Cortez is a great villain, a power-hungry drug who has it all and believes he is untouchable; he is a bit underwhelming at times, though, as he is a bit too tamed.

The acting is great from the entire cast. Arnold Schwarzenegger may not be in his prime physically, but he delivers with his one-liners and his charisma; consider this promising performance, a bit more time to get readjusted and he'll be back in tiptop shape. Forrest Whitaker also delivers his dialogue very fluently and realistically, I enjoyed his performance. Johnny Knoxville plays a minor role, just enough to be enjoyable without overstaying his welcome. Really, the entire cast delivers in this film with their likable and believable performances.

South Korean director Kim Ji-woon smoothly directs The Last Stand, continuing his promising career as one of the best; this film sort of reminds me of Mr. Kim's fantastic film, The Good, The Bad, and The Weird. The cinematography is great, everything on screen really comes together. The music compliments the film's story and setting well, really adding to the film's atmosphere and tone. The action sequences are superbly shot and choreographed. The Last Stand is a technically fantastic film.

Overall, The Last Stand is an insanely entertaining film from start to finish. The amazing action and effective comedy really compliment each other, and the film fires on all cylinders always pushing forward. As far as entertainment goes, The Last Stand delivers tenfold. I highly recommend a purchase for fans of the genre, a rental otherwise.

Score: 9/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and gore.

Film Review: End of Watch (2012)

End of Watch (Review)
United States/2012
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Michael Pena) are two young police officers working a beat of South Central. Taylor is recording his work for a school project, and Zavala is his partner. The very close partners share their lives - from their complicated relationships to their dangerous line of work.

The film automatically starts off during a chase with a monologue from Taylor - explaining his mindset - and ends in a fatal shooting. Taylor and Zavala return to work and being recording their lives. As police officers, they chase, fight, and shoot the criminals; on their small breaks, they humorously discuss their lives and their relationships - what they strive for. Eventually, Taylor and Zavala encounter a drug cartel and begin to investigate - the partners begin to dig into something they may not be able to climb out of.

I really enjoy the story in End of Watch. Taylor and Zavala's relationship is fully developed as two very close friends - they genuinely care for each other as family. And, I really felt a connection with both characters - they can be serious, they can laugh, they can cry - they are easily likable characters. Aside from the characters, the story keeps a captivating momentum throughout; the story is very humorous during the developmental scenes, and the action is thrilling during the rest - this combination of authentic humor and intense action sequences is masterfully blended creating a non-sop ride. The ending of the film looked like it was about to break the generic "Hollywood" formula, but it quickly flip-flops; I enjoyed the ending, nonetheless.

The acting is fantastic from the entire cast. Jake Gyllenhaal is very charismatic and genuine. Michael Pena is equally charismatic and genuine. The pair compliment each other greatly and have great chemistry; they feel like they've been partners for years. The side roles are also exceptional; the gangster performances are very real. The film is shot mostly as a mockumentary/found-footage, and also incorporates some traditional shooting. The shaky-cam may be too much for sensitive viewers, but it didn't bother me. The music is fantastic, really matching the tone of South Central, LA.

Overall, End of Watch is one of the most entertaining films of 2012; really showing the lives of two charismatic/likable cops, and entertaining all the way through with genuinely humorous dialogue, masterfully-made action sequences, and a gritty crime story. Every second of this film delivered in one way or another. A purchase is highly recommended.

Score: 10/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Film Review: Miller's Crossing (1990)

Miller's Crossing (Review)
United States/1990
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: Yes

Tom Reagan is the confidant of Leo, a political mob boss. Johnny Caspar, Leo's up-and-coming rival, announces his plans to kill a two-timing bookie, Bernie. To Johnny and Tom's surprise, Leo goes against this plan and sides with Bernie causing a war between the two bosses...

Tom is further involved when his affair with Verna, Leo's girlfriend, is revealed; and Bernie is Verna's brother. So, Verna is playing Leo into keeping Bernie alive, while Tom is supposedly in love with Verna, but he may be trying to get to Bernie. Essentially, Tom is trying to stop the war from erupting and gets caught in the middle.

Miller's Crossing is a crime story - it's really a story of friendship, deception, and ethics. It works mostly off of its dialogue, along with a few shootouts. Most of the dialogue is quick yet engaging; its often very intense, as well. The story really kept the me interested thanks to the constant theme of deception and ethics; you really wonder what each character's ulterior motive is. The ending of the film is also fantastic. There were a couple scenes of comedy that really didn't work and broke the immersion of the film, though.

The acting is superb from the entire cast. Gabriel Byrne plays Tom Reagan and he's slick and witty most of the time. John Turturro plays Bernie and he begs for mercy fantastically, his character can quickly change emotions as he is very deceptive. And, I also really enjoyed Jon Polito as Caspar. The film is shot beautifully, especially at Miller's Crossing. The music is also fantastic, a memorable soundtrack and theme. Joel Coen's direction is fantastic and consistent.

Overall, Miller's Crossing is a great crime drama. The story is intense and ends unexpectedly; the dialogue is fantastic and immersive, every exchange is brilliant; and, the acting is all-around superb from the amazing cast. However, there are a couple of scenes that don't work with the film. I recommend a purchase for fans of the genre, a rental otherwise.

Score: 8/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Film Review: End Call (2008)

End Call (Review)
Japan/2008
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

If you video call the forbidden number at midnight, the Devil will grant your wish. But, he'll also have control of your life for the duration of the phone call. A group of high school students begin calling to make wishes - some to escape misery and others to capture love. However, there wishes don't turn out the way they wanted, and some wishes conflict with each other...

End Call is a haunted technology horror film, like Ringu and Pulse. The video calls are very basic - the screen simply turns black as they make their wish - which is disappointing. The outcome of some of their wishes are often disturbing, though; in fact, the first death (?) was cringe-worthy. The somewhat promising introduction is soiled when the film starts to inconsistently jump from time to time. This nonlinear storytelling is very confusing and ineffective. For example: a scene may start in the present, show a time screen stating "1 month earlier" for the next scene, then that scene will end with a fade into a scene with a specific date. So, it uses both 1 week/month earlier time cards, and specific dates, which makes it hard to distinguish between the present and past. It comes off as very, very sloppy.

The rest of the film after the beginning follows this storytelling method. Since it's so confusing, I spent more time focusing on the time and dates than the actual story. That's not a problem since the story is uneventful and repetitive; the story is very forgettable, although the concept is interesting. It does have a dark atmosphere, but the suspense and terror is absent - I wasn't scared. There are some effectively disturbing scenes, though; there are effective scenes, like a scene involving a blender and another involving a mistaken toothbrush. The ending of the film, if I understood it correctly, was sinister - I liked it, even as the third act dragged on and on.

The acting was okay. Most of the acting comes off as believable. However, there are some scenes where the cast display frustration but fail to nail it; the frustration comes off as very fake and forced. I like the music in this film, it has a unique horror sound. The bleak style works for the film, and creates a dark atmosphere. The editing and storytelling is sloppy and ineffective.

Overall, End Call has a great concept, a few disturbing scenes, and a dark ending. However, the storytelling is absolutely horrid, the terror is almost nonexistent, and the story is uneventful and forgettable. I recommend streaming as part of a membership program like Netflix, before paying directly to watch End Call.

Score: 3/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and some gore.

Film Review: The Screen at Kamchanod (2007)

The Screen at Kamchanod (Review)
Thailand/2007
Netflx Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

Four movie screeners began screening a film in the forest of Kamchanod. The audience was nonexistent, until people started mysteriously appearing from the forest... then, the people mysteriously vanished. Did they screen a film to an audience of ghosts?

Dr. Yuth and his colleagues begin researching the event. The group eventually plan on recreating the event to conjure similar results. Through exhaustive investigation, the group find the film that was screened. They watch the film in an abandoned theater and feel an eerie presence within the auditorium. The group begin to experience supernatural occurrences and are haunted by ghostly figures and visions. The only way to stop it may be to recreate the event in the Kamchanod forest.

The story in this film is confusing. It starts off abruptly and doesn't bother to explain much. However, the film manages to deliver the frights as it blends effective jump scares, dreadful suspense, and haunting imagery. I really enjoyed the strong horror presence in the film, especially the imagery - it was often very chilling! The scares become very consistent during the second act - a bit too consistent as it is literally filled with scare after scare, with little story or character development. The film ends ambiguously. From what I understand: it is a chilling ending. (but, remember, I may be wrong as the story was confusing.)

The acting was good. The performances were believable, although they were often bland and underwhelming. Despite the interesting story concept, the storytelling is flawed and hurts the overall effectiveness of the film; I asked too many questions I shouldn’t have to ask. The scares are consistent and versatile - I really like that. The music was also eerie at times, and really worked with the theme and setting of the film.

Overall, The Screen at Kamchanod is a scary film that lacks story. It consistently tries to scare in many ways, and it's mostly effective, but the story is lacking and confusing; if you could careless for the story, then you'll likely find enjoyment in the barrage of scares this film throws at the audience. I recommend a purchase for fans of the genre, a rental otherwise.

Score: 6/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Film Review: Dragon (2011)

Dragon (Review)
China/2011
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

Liu Jin-xi (Donnie Yen) is a seemingly normal paper worker, husband, and father. One day, two bandits attempt to rob a general store. The robbery goes bad and the family and employees are attacked. Liu Jin-xi is hidden in the store and eventually decides to intervene. Liu Jin-xi ends up clumsily defeating and killing both bandits. However, one of these bandits is an infamous criminal responsible for several murders...

Detective Xu Baijiu begins to investigate the deaths and also questions Liu Jin-xi's identity. How could a normal paper worker kill two bandits? His investigations reveal a different fight from what was originally perceived as pure luck - a fight that signifies Liu Jin-xi's exceptional martial arts skill. Liu Jin-xi explains his situation to Xu Baijiu, he explains his troubled past and the family problems that lie within. But, as Zu Baijiu investigates deeper, Liu's past returns to haunt him.

This isn't a pure martial arts action film. Dragon blends amazing action sequences, mesmerizing mystery and investigation, and drama. The action sequences in this story are large set pieces with significance - they are not small 2-3 minute fights. These few action sequences are stunningly choreographed and filmed, with exceptional use of slow-motion. The mystery is blended well and intensely into the story so it always keeps its momentum; the creative editing during these scenes really helps the mystery match the impact of the fight sequences. Although it works with the themes of the film, the ending of the film was a bit odd for what the rest of the movie developed.

The acting is great all-around. Donnie Yen gets a little deeper and more emotional during his scenes, especially as he speaks about his tortured past. Not only does he do a great job as a dramatic actor, he continues to excel as a martial artist. Donnie Yen also worked as the action director, and he does an amazing job; the action sequences are thrilling, edge-of-your-seat suspenseful. The entire film is beautifully-shot, the settings and costume design are fantastic. Peter Chan is also a superb director, delivering very tight yet smooth direction.

Overall, Dragon is a fantastic film. The entire story is an incredible hybrid of martial arts action and investigative mystery; a blend that manages to hold great momentum from beginning to end. The actual ending was odd and drifted further into fantasy than expected, but it is wonderfully choreographed and managed to follow a recurring theme in the film. Donnie Yen continues to excel as an actor and action director, I look forward to seeing him again. I highly recommend a purchase for fans of the genre, a rental otherwise.

Score: 9/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and gore.

Friday, June 7, 2013

FIlm Review: The Dead Zone (1983)

The Dead Zone (Review)
United States/1983
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: Yes

Johnny Smith (Christopher Walken) is a young teacher who is madly in love with his colleague, Sarah. After a day of fun with Sarah, Johnny declines an invitation to stay the night and drives away into the storming night. As he drives, a tanker is detached and Johnny crashes. Five years later, Johnny awakens from a coma with the power to see the past and future of anyone he physically contacts.

Johnny's new power is initially a curse. He's badgered by reporters and fans, and he also sees nightmarish visions of the past and future. Concurrently, the love of his life quickly moved on - Sarah is a wife and mother. At one point, he agrees to help the sheriff find a serial killer, which ends in Johnny further questioning his powers. As things get progressively worse and a serious moral dilemma arises, Johnny begins to realize the potential of his power.

I really enjoyed the story in The Dead Zone. The concept is unique and interesting, although not fully fleshed-out or explained. I like the different examples the film goes through. Johnny can either keep his visions to himself, use them for good, or even use them push away the people that badger him. The situations he's placed in continue to escalate until he has to question whether his power is a gift or a curse. If you could kill Hitler and alter history, would you? An oddly compelling and thought-provoking question, but effective, nonetheless. The ending of the film was great - very different from my expectations - but it was a bit abrupt.

Christopher Walken is great in this film as Johnny. He shows a wide range of emotion from happiness to frustration, and he really plays the character authentically. Martin Sheen appears during the final act, and, although he did a competent job, he really wasn't a well-fitted or believable politician - the corruption was there, but the charisma was absent. The rest of the cast was also great. The music was fantastic, really matched the SciFi/Thriller mood. The direction and editing were very smooth and consistent.

Overall, The Dead Zone is a fantastic SciFi thriller. The concept is original and interesting, the acting is great, the music is exceptional, and the film is all-around entertaining. I highly recommend The Dead Zone.

Score: 9/10
Parental Guide: Some strong violence and blood, and brief nudity.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Film Review: Smiley (2012)

Smiley (Review)
United States/2012
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: Yes

Babysitter Stacy is told the internet urban legend of Smiley; Smiley is a murderous figure with stitched eyes who appears during video chats if one chatter types "I did it for the lulz" three times. Stacy becomes a victim of the legend...

Ashley moves into a home with Proxy, about a block away from college. The pair go to an anonymous party where they hear about the legend of Smiley. Ashley and Proxy decide to test the legend on a random user, and he is killed. Smiley's presence begins to frighten some of the anonymous partygoers, and it gets stronger and stronger. Ashley is haunted by Smiley, and her past psychological issues seem to resurface; is Smiley real or is she part of a sick prank?

Smiley is a very promising concept that suffers from poor execution. I love urban legends, and this film starts off promising with an interesting introduction to a sickly designed legend. But, as soon as the title card passes, the film fumbles into mediocrity. The repetitive questioning, the dull slashing, and consistently boring jump-scares hurt the film significantly; most of the film revolves around Ashley questioning the existence of Smiley (without researching), the murders are very underwhelming, and the suspense is nonexistent which makes the jump-scares ineffective.

The dialogue is also filled with unnecessarily overused internet memes and slang, which also hurts the authenticity of these characters; in other words, they try way to hard. For a horror film, Smiley offers nothing new or exciting and completes destroys its chances at creating a horror icon; Smiley is poorly utilized and never truly becomes a character in the film. The ending was decent at one point, but the obnoxious and annoying dialogue that goes on and on kills the ending's effectiveness.

The acting was very hit-and-miss. Roger Bart plays a professor in this film, and his performance is authentic; he speaks very fluently, and has the charisma of a college professor; his performance is one of the highlights of the film. Andrew James Allen plays Zane, an internet security expert or hacker, and his performance was solid; he delivers a somewhat believable performance and his dialogue delivery is also smooth; however, his dialogue is littered a lot of unnecessary internet slang. The rest of the acting is borderline horrible. Caitlin Gerard plays the lead in the film, Ashley; she overacts during every other scene, and most of her emotion seems inauthentic - a very poor choice for the lead.

I think most of the acting, from both major and minor roles, are significantly affected by the poor writing. The dialogue is obnoxiously written, while the structure follows generic path; if you watch slashers, you've seen this film before and a lot better/tolerable. Technically speaking, the film is competent; the direction and editing are smooth and easy-to-follow, the music is well-fitted, and the film is shot as it should be. I mean, it's not spectacular or unique, but it didn't give me a headache - it's basically competent. In other words, the filmmakers didn't aim for the stars on its technical aspects, rather they aimed to make a simply competent movie. (it's bland!)

Overall, Smiley starts off as a promising slasher. But, it quickly falls apart as you spend more time with the obnoxious dialogue, the annoying characters, and the predictable plot. Oh, and the film is not scary; there isn't a single scary scene in this film. Hopefully, the sequel will welcome creativity and fully utilize Smiley. Don't bother directly paying to rent or purchase, stream it if you're interested and you're a member of Amazon Prime.

Score: 3/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood.

Film Review: Act of Valor (2012)

Act of Valor (Review)
United States/2012
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

A terrorist attack at an international school in the Philippines kills a U.S. ambassador, his son, and dozens of young students. The Chechen terrorist, Abu Shabal, successfully escapes. Meanwhile, two CIA operatives investigating a high-level smuggler, Christo, are attacked; one is murdered and Lisa Morales is kidnapped.

In comes Seal Team Seven. Lt. Rorke has told Chief Dave that his wife is pregnant and wants to bring the entire team and their families together before their next deployment. Rorke and Dave are close friends and share the same love for family - Dave has 5 children of his own. Eventually, they say their goodbyes and head out to Costa Rica to rescue Morales. At that time, they find information that brings them deeper into a terrorist plot of massive proportions.

Act of Valor has a cliché, predictable story. I've seen this film many times before, and could guess the ending from the beginning monologues. The characters lack personality, and most of the team rarely speak - it introduces seven seals that are never developed, and the two that are focused on somehow manage to feel hollow anyway. If you're looking for a deep, emotional, or character-driven war film, look elsewhere, as these elements are nonexistent. Nonetheless, the action sequences are intense and exciting - it's over-the-top, unbelievable action that is greatly choreographed. Story-wise, there isn't much to discuss. Several super-soldiers dodge death dozens of times, at several international locations, and save the day.

Aside from the cliché plot, the story's other significant offenses are the horrendous acting and delivery, the bland writing, and terrible dialogue. Using real Navy Seals was a mistake. The dialogue delivery from both leads is terrible, coming off as unnatural and robotic. They further bring down the movie with their charismatic-less performances and the lack of chemistry between the two close "friends" - they speak to each other like they just met. The performances from the Seals are very cringe-worthy, especially during normal conversations. The fact that they're active duty Seals doesn't excuse the acting; I cannot simple forgive it or excuse it, it's a movie and the acting is significant. (I love our troops, by the way, but if you can't act, you can't act.)

The writing is simplistic and repetitive. It's very easy to follow, and very predictable. The dialogue between the two leads consists of them mentioning how Rorke will be a father soon - every other sentence - and it is ultimately drilled into your head so you can guess how it will
end. The writing completely ignores both the characters and the complicated subject of warfare. The film is shot well, the music is also well-fitted.

Overall, Act of Valor has a bland story, cliché writing, and horrendous acting. The action sequences are exceptional, but are not enough to redeem the film's significant offenses. Basically, Act of Valor may as well be called Call of Duty: The Movie. (for those that know about video games.) I recommend a stream or rental depending on how much you like action.

Score: 4/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood, and implied torture.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Film Review: Tormented (2011)

Tormented (Review)
Japan/2011
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

Kirioko is a mute with a shy, younger half-brother, Daigo; they have different mothers, and live with their book illustrator father. Kiriko, along with several students, witness Daigo kill an injured rabbit - putting it out of its misery. Afterward, Daigo stops attending school and begins to spend time with Kiriko. Eventually, both are haunted by a large rabbit-doll.

The rabbit-doll explodes off the screen while Kiriko and Daigo watch Shock Labyrinth 3D in a theater. Daigo takes the rabbit-doll with him and begins to experience surreal nightmares featuring a large rabbit. Kiriko also begins to experience these nightmares as she tries to save her younger brother. However, these nightmares hold a much deeper meaning... regarding Daigo's mother, Kyoko, who might've returned from the dead.

Tormented is an atmospheric fantasy horror film. It is a mystifying, slow-burner with fantastic originality. The dream sequences are fantastic, and really add to the fairytale horror of the film. The rabbit-doll is effective, it can be creepy. The story uses drama and horror to create an effective experience; much of the story is sad and depressing, sometimes hard to watch. However, aside from the rabbit-doll, you've likely seen this story before. The twist is good, but it is very predictable. The ending of the film is good, too.

Tormented is a 3D horror film with a 2D version. I watched the 2D version, and you can clearly see what scenes were going to use the 3D feature. Some of it is off-putting because of the lack of 3D. The special effects simply don't fit well with the 2D version, it looks odd. It doesn't break the film, but it is slightly distracting. If you can watch the 3D version, that may be the superior version.

The acting is great from the cast. Hikari Mitsushima plays Kiriko; she doesn't speak, except for some monologues, but her facial expressions are great and show the right emotion; I wouldn't mean seeing more of her in the future. The music is also great, it really fits with the mystical, fantasy horror atmosphere of the film. Aside from some special effects, the film is shot beautifully; there are many scenes that have great use of color.

Overall, Tormented is a great fantasy horror film, that blends its elements well. However, the horror is a bit soft and underwhelming - I won't lose any sleep at night - and some story elements are predictable. I recommend a purchase for fans of slow-burning fantasy horror films, a rental otherwise.

Score: 7/10
Parental Guide: Some violence and blood.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Film Review: Dark Water (2005)

Dark Water (Review)
United States/2005
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

Dahlia is currently in a custody battle against her ex-husband, Kyle. Kyle wants Dahlia and their daughter, Cecilia, to move closer to Jersey City, while Dahlia has already set her mind on Roosevelt Island. The apartment she moves into isn't perfect, but it's just enough and it's close to a good school. Eventually, water starts leaking excessively and eerie occurrences begin to haunt Dahlia.

Dark Water continues to play out as a subtle ghost story - you never really see a ghost, at least not a stereotypical ghost. It also tries to play the psychological horror card as Dahlia begins to question her sanity; Is this really happening? Is my ex-husband trying to make me seem crazy? Continuing at its slow-burning pace, the story begins to reveal the sinister secrets within the building. The actual cause of the leakage is depressing - not because it was bad, but because it was actually sad. It all leads up to a bittersweet ending, those final moments were very touching.

I didn't find the Dark Water to be scary. There were a few creepy scenes, but not many. It had a dark, gritty atmosphere throughout, which benefitted those few creepy scenes, though. The psychological aspects of the film are never fully explored, nor are they creatively explored; the divorce and the mediation is rarely effectively used, which makes the psychological aspects inconsequential - there is no significance. Finally, the last few moments of the film may be touching, but the final act, or final sequence, was underwhelming and felt very rushed, especially when compared to the original film.

The acting is great. Jennifer Connelly played Dahlia very competently, she got the job done and emoted the right emotion; she really nailed this performance, although it was a bit simplistic. Ariel Gade played Cecile, I assume she was basically playing herself as she is a little girl anyway. She also capture her character, and I can't help but say she was extremely adorable. The music in this film really added to the eerie atmosphere; the cinematography was very bleak and dark, which also added to the atmosphere of the film positively.

Overall, Dark Water is a good horror-drama film. The story is a little too long, a little too empty, a falls short of complete; but it is drenched in a dark, immersive atmosphere, it has a slow-burning pace, and features some great performances. If you're a fan of the remake genre, or
dislike reading subtitles, I recommend watching this film. Otherwise, Dark Water (2002) is an all-around better film.

Score: 6/10
Parental Guide: Some violence.

Film Review: Let The Bullets Fly (2010)

Let The Bullets Fly (Review)
China/2010
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

In China during the 1920s, Zhang "Pocky" Mazi (Jiang Wen) leads his group of bandits into derailing a government train. Governor Ma Bangde (Ge You), who was going to Goose Town to be governor, and his wife are the only survivors of the derailment, and they do not have money to give. So, Ma poses as his dead counselor to throw off Zhang and his bandits. Zhang then decides to be the governor of Goose Town to make up for the loses...

As Zhang arrives in Goose Town, he is told of Master Huang (Chow Yun Fat), a local mobster who runs the city and quickly opposes the new leadership. Any chance of a healthy relationship between the two leaders is quickly diminished as Zhang refuses to split tax money with Huang and he refuses to take money from the poor - Zhang wants money straight from Huang, and a battle of wits, greed, and power emerges.

Let The Bullets Fly is an action-comedy blend. The action is wonderfully choreographed, usually consisting of great shootouts and quick strategic planning. The action, however, isn't as strong as the comedy. The film's comedy relies on its fast, witty dialogue - the quick, quirky exchanges between characters. The dialogue is genuinely funny - in fact, it's funnier than most comedies nowadays. I haven't laughed so much and so loudly in a very long time. The action and comedy compliment each other very well, and the film manages to use both elements to keep its momentum from beginning to end. As far as the story goes, I thought it was very original, and very entertaining.

The acting is fantastic in this film. Chow Yun Fat is incredibly animated and very witty with his delivery - he really captures the charismatic thug well. Ge You is also very lively and quirky - he quickly changes his emotions, from tears of pain to tears of joy. The cinematography is great, the settings are also very captivating and immersive. The music matched the tone of the film, which is a big plus. The film often uses computer generated effects, which were very ill-fitted and poorly done; fortunately, these special effects are only used during a few scenes. The writing and the great performances should really be credited for the amazing humor this film delivers.

Overall, Let The Bullets Fly is a hilarious action film. Almost every aspect of this film excels beyond standard, very close to perfection; the special effects only hurt the film slightly. As far as action-comedy goes, you won't find a more entertaining film. I highly recommend a purchase
for fans of the genre - make sure you're comfortable reading subtitles if you don't understand the audience, many of the exchanges go by rapidly.

Score: 9/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Film Review: The Dark Hours (2005)

The Dark Hours (Review)
Canada/2005
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

Dr. Samantha Goodman, a psychiatrist, is told to take a break after aggressively questioning a patient, consequently causing the patient to violently erupt. She goes to the winter cottage where her husband, David, is finishing his book with his assistant, Melody, who also happens to be Samantha's younger sister. Later that night, Adrian, a young man locked out of his cottage, shows up asking for shelter...

Adrian, however, has ulterior motives as he holds the family hostage after shooting the family dog. Eventually, Adrian's partner, Harlan Pyne, shows up. Harlan, a violent sex offender, was a patient of Samantha and he's come to exact his revenge; Harlan believes Samantha mistreated him while he was under her care. Harlan has several psychological games planned for the trio, and he will reveal the secrets they've been hiding for so long.

The story in this film is a mysterious, psychological thriller. There are plenty of twists packed into this 1hr 20min features - I tried to avoid as many of them as possible in the summary. There are many compelling scenes and questions that will occur throughout the film. Who is the real monster: Harlan or Samantha? The story really makes you question who you're rooting for. On one hand, Harlan is a viciously violent sex offender. On the other hand, Samantha is a self-centered, manipulative, and deceitful doctor. I write doctor because these attribute usually aren't affiliated with doctors, and this makes her character that much more dislikable. I enjoy the focus on character in this film, and I also enjoy the story - it starts off moderately paced, then it spirals out of control, in a good way. I'll admit, the ending of the film is a bit predictable, especially if you're familiar with similar stories, but it was enjoyable, nonetheless.

The acting in the film is great. Aidan Devine plays Harlan Pyne, and I really enjoyed his performance. He really nailed the sinister yet controlled character, he doesn't overact and his not bland, he's just right. The dialogue in this film is sometimes bland and unnatural, so that affects the flow of the cast. The music was well-fitted, although it wasn't anything special. The storytelling is smooth, and it was ferociously paced - this combo made the film feel like it ended before it started.

Overall, The Dark Hours is a fast, captivating, and entertaining burst of psychological thrills. It follows a safe route, so it may feel very familiar, especially if you've seen many films in the
genre. I recommend this film for fans of the genre and viewers looking to quickly kill a night. A rental otherwise.

Score: 8/10
Parental Guide: Strong blood and violence, a sex scene with brief nudity.